The Fundamentals of Fast Fashion: Why it’s fucked up

These days, it can feel like everyone and their next-door neighbour’s dog is boycotting the high street. Most of us know that it’s unethical, but why is “fast fashion” so bad? Let’s go back to the fundamentals.

Thanks to the internet and the barrage of tweets every single day telling us who we should be boycotting next, it can often feel like we’re making changes to our ethical boundaries without truly knowing why. And, let’s be honest, nobody wants to be the person coming into a conversation with a bunch of know-it-alls to say “erm, sorry, but I literally have no flipping clue what you’re talking about mate.”

Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

Today I thought we could get back to the basics on the fast fashion front. I’m not going to tell you a hundred ways to be a more sustainable shopper, or list off “slow fashion” brands that you should be giving your monthly pay check to. Instead, I’m going to explain to you why fast fashion and its consequences might be something that you should care about more in 2019.

What is fast fashion?

When I said “basics”, I wasn’t kidding. Let’s start with what the term “fast fashion” actually bloody means.

According to our good ol’ friend Merriam-Webster, it is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”

Basically, it’s those shops that always seem to have a “new in” section, whether online or in store, are super trendy and sell their clothes and accessories at a very low price. It’s even been reported that the classic Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter seasons within the fashion industry have been replaced by 52 “micro-seasons”. Shop owners will tell you that these were created to satiate the shopper’s constant need for new, whilst cynics will tell you that it’s a system created specifically to make you feel untrendy.

I’d say that it’s a mix of the two and that each fuels the other. As I’ve spoken about in this post before, this is a dynamic that is exaggerated even more in the world of fashion blogging. 

 

A pair of fast fashion trainers on a door mat, pictured next to two fast fashion books and pink roses.
At first glance the fast fashion system looks great: It means that stylish clothes are accessible to more people thanks to the smaller price tags. It also means that we have choice. The more items that are constantly being rotated in and out of shops, the more likely we are to find something that we like. And, hey, if we don’t end up liking it as much as we thought, it only cost a fiver!
So what is the ethical problem?

Fast fashion and the planet

Fast fashion is the world’s second biggest polluter.

Multiple parts of the industry have a hugely negative impact on the environment, from the fabrics being used to the way in which we discard clothes once we’re done with them.

As it stands, polyester is the most popular fabric being used in the textile industry. Like, 90% of Primark is made from the stuff! Which is all fine and dandy until you realise that it’s not biodegradable. That means that when you pop it in the washing machine, tiny particles are released into our water system. These “microfibres” are polluting our rivers and oceans, harming marine life and slowly making their way into our food chain.

But polyester isn’t the only material that is causing havoc. The water needed to grow the huge amounts of cotton that fast fashion requires to maintain its 52 micro-seasons is also putting pressure on the environment. As you can imagine, it can be particularly problematic in countries that are at risk of drought, many of which are where our clothes are produced.

On top of that, the chemicals used to achieve bright colours and prints in the fashion industry are polluting water on a global scale. As The Independent points out, many of the chemicals are “toxic, bio-accumulative (meaning the substance builds up in an organism faster than the organism can excrete or metabolise it), disruptive to hormones and carcinogenic.”

Finally (because apparently those other reasons aren’t enough!), the annual carbon footprint of a household’s newly bought clothing, as well as that for washing them, is estimated to be the “equivalent to the carbon emissions from driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles”.

So, basically, fast fashion is one big shit show for our planet.

The waste of fast fashion

We live in a throw-away culture. We buy an item of clothing cheaply and, because it was so cheap, we’re not bothered about never wearing it and eventually throwing it away. We see our clothes as not having any real “value”.

And boy does it show in the figures. Last year, 300,000 tonnes of textiles ended up in landfill. That’s 300,000 tonnes of clothing not donated, not upcycled or recycled, but sitting there to rot and pollute our planet even further.

The mistreatment of garment factory workers

Perhaps the biggest issue within fast fashion – and certainly the thing that convinced me to stop buying from these types of brands – was the way that the system treats the people that make our clothes.

Whilst a cheap price tag is great, those costs have to be made up somewhere.

H&M are said to have fired 251 workers due to pregnancy in Cambodia and India and it is reported that 8,000 workers have collapsed in their factories due to heat and exhaustion between 2010 and 2016 in Cambodia alone. Topshop have been linked to the use of sweatshops that pay their workers 44p per hour. And even in a place as close as Leicester in the UK, factory workers were payed far beyond the minimum wage to work in unsafe conditions.

One of the most prominent and heartbreaking example of the horrendous treatment that garment factory workers face is in the story of the Rana Plaza Disaster: A day on which 1,138 people, mostly garment factory workers, died due to a building collapse, despite the fact that companies were warned to evacuate the premises. Because, of course, that would have meant losing profit.

And those that work in fast fashion factories aren’t the only people to suffer.

The huge demand for cotton means that farmers in countries such as India use pesticides in order to maintain a high yield. These agricultural chemicals can take as much as 60% of a farmer’s budget, often meaning that they are forced to take out loans. According to People Tree (a slow fashion brand),  in Punjab between 1990 and 2007, 40,000 farmers committed suicide because they couldn’t repay such loans. 

The impact of fast fashion on your local economy

“Made in Britain” labels are now quite the rarity in clothes shops but, once upon a time, the UK’s textile industry was booming.

However, with the dawn of fast fashion and the need for more clothes at a lower cost, hundreds of factories were forced to close down and move abroad, mainly due to the lower labour costs that I mentioned earlier.

Although this is probably the least of our worries when we’re looking at the horrors of fast fashion, its effects on your local economy is certainly something to consider.

 

To be honest, this is a hugely brief account of the atrocities caused by fast fashion. I could probably list dozens more examples  of the ways that this system harms people and the planet just off the top of my head. However, I hope that this has made things a little bit clearer for anyone who is only now starting to learn about it.

Whilst finding out all of this information can be massively overwhelming and it can feel easier just to ignore it all (trust me, I’ve been there), I try to keep this quote in my mind whenever I’m shopping:

“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.” 

—Lucy Siegle, journalist and author. 

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2 Comments

  1. January 31, 2019 / 6:09 pm

    I adore this post. When I was younger, I lived to constantly be buying new, cheap, unethical pieces, but now that I’m older, I definitely have a better appreciation of exactly which retailers I should be supporting.

    Francesca | francescasophia.co.uk xx

    • Bethany
      Author
      February 3, 2019 / 10:55 am

      Thanks so much, Francesca! I think it’s a journey that a lot of us are on these days, which is great! xx

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